San Juan College and the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments held a press conference on December 10 in recognition of two federal grants, totaling $1.73 million, recently invested in the Four Corners region, which will assist the region’s stakeholders to build and support an effective economic strategy in light of changes in the global coal economy.
Highlighting this press event was the presence of senior representatives of the U.S. Department of Commerce, who commented on the purpose and significance of these grants, which were awarded under the Administration’s inter-agency POWER initiative (reflecting the longer title, Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization).
Matt Erskine, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development, U.S. Department of Commerce from Washington, D.C., discussed the importance of the POWER Initiative on the national level, and the need to work with communities who have been dependent on the coal industry and helping them move forward in the future.
Jeff Kiely, Executive Director of the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments, provided an overview of the first of the POWER grants to be awarded by EDA, which is a $327,300 planning and technical assistance grant to carry out a broad regional assessment of economic impacts on the Four Corners region from contractions in the coal economy and to bring forward feasible and responsive strategies for diversifying the economy, while continuing to take advantage of the region’s assets and potential.
Dr. Pendergrass then discussed the second POWER grant, announced on October 15, which is a $1.4 million public works grant to the College that will invest in both human and technological resources to upgrade workforce preparedness in the energy field while enhancing the College’s role in promoting new job creation and economic diversification in the San Juan Basin. Dr. Pendergrass explained how San Juan College will utilize the grant to enhance the College’s world-class energy industry training for those workers who have been affected by the reduction of jobs in the coal and energy industry. The grant funds will also be utilized, in collaboration with the NWNMCOG’s planning grant, to bring together a coalition of economic developers and industry leaders to help workers affected by the loss of jobs in the coal industry to cross train and retrain for jobs in Information Technology, Health Care and other energy sectors.
“We are extremely excited and eager to join our coalition of economic developers and industry leaders to assist those workers who are affected by the loss of jobs in the coal industry,” said Dr. Toni Hopper Pendergrass, president of San Juan College. “Thanks to the generous $1.4 million grant provided by the Economic Development Administration, we will have funding to acquire additional equipment and technology that will help us enhance our programs to cross train and retrain these workers for new jobs in other energy sectors such as Instrumentation and Controls, and Commercial Driver’s License, as well as careers in Information Technology, Health Care and other high-wage, high-demand fields.”
These two federal awards, which together launch the Four Corners POWER Initiative, are the only POWER grants made by EDA in its five-state Southwest Region. The hope of the EDA Austin Regional Office is that these public investments will consider the entire Four Corners region, including San Juan, McKinley and Cibola Counties in northwestern New Mexico, as well as counties in bordering states that are historically connected to the region’s coal economy.
At the federal level, the POWER initiative is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Commerce’s EDA, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, the Small Business Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission.